State-capitalism or socialism

(CV #46, November 2011)

What is the nature of the despotic but supposedly socialist regimes, like the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union yesterday and the present-day regimes in Cuba and China? Is it socialism or state-capitalism that forms the basis of the oppressive political systems in various countries that called themselves “communist” but gave no voice to the working class? This issue of Communist Voice carries material relevant to this question, which still is one of the central issues in the theoretical crisis in left-wing thought. It deals with the on-going privatization in Cuba, which shows how market fundamentalism is growing in Cuba and with the debate in Ukraine on the nature of the former Soviet Union.

This issue of CV also deals with the Arab Spring, and the issue of the nature of the state sector also arises in this connection. It is one of the reasons that various sectors of the supposed anti-imperialist left are skeptical of the mass uprisings in the Arab Spring. They are upset that it is striking regimes which have both a major state sector, such as Libya and Syria, and stronger ties to Russian and Chinese imperialism than to US and European imperialism. These sectors of the left are non-class anti-imperialists, who don’t evaluate regimes by their relationship to the masses, but by arbitrary economic and political standards.  They unwittingly abandon the standpoint of the class struggle and end up regarding the mass struggle against  oppression as simply a plot of this or that section of imperialism. And they don’t have faith that, whatever the nature of the regimes that follow the downfall of the tyrants of the Middle East and North Africa, it is the development of mass initiative of the working masses that will eventually radically transform politics in the Middle East and North Africa.

In fact, the question of the nature of state ownership will arise in other ways as well, such as prospectives for the US economy.  As the environmental and economic crises deepen, there is a renewed interest in Marxism and what it takes to overcome capitalism. Market fundamentalism, which seems so firmly entrenched, is in crisis. The capitalists are clinging more and more tightly to market fundamentalism as it strangles the masses, yet the time is coming when even the capitalist government will have to move to regulation and a renewal of the state sector.  What should the attitude of the working class to the renewed regulation be? Should it be regarded as pro-working class and socialistic in itself? Or should the working class remain vigilant against capitalist management, whether by corporations or the state apparatus run by the capitalists? Should activists prepare the working class for a fierce struggle over the nature of the renewed regulation and empowered state sector to come, or simply sigh in relief whenever state regulation is strengthened? The attitude towards the state-capitalism of the past in other countries will affect the attitude of activists towards the coming state regulation.

For activists in Ukraine too, the debate among activists in the Ukraine over the nature of the former Soviet Union isn’t just an historical question. It already bears on current issues. For example, it  affects their evaluation of such things as the nature of those present-day “communist” parties which are descended from the former “Communist” Party of the Soviet Union.

This issue contains the translation into English of an article by the Ukrainian communist activist Yury Shakin, thus bringing to readers here an example of the best of the discussion in the Ukrainian left. Shakin’s article is an insightful comment on the discussion which has been going on in the journal What Is To Be done?, a journal which uses the name of one of Lenin’s famous works. Some of the people in this discussion, such as the participant D. Yakushev,  advocate that since the Soviet Union didn’t have the exact same form of capitalism as in the West, and it had replaced the former tsarist bourgeoisie, it must have been socialist. They present a glorified picture of what existed in the past. They think that capitalism didn’t arrive in the Soviet Union until perestroika under Gorbachev.

Another participant, S.S. Gubanov, denounces the cheery picture of the Soviet Union painted by Yakushev as illusionary and simply repeating Stalinist myths. He sets forward his explanation for why the Soviet economy, while differing from the Western market economies, was not socialist. But his economic reasoning is flawed by his idea that what was wrong with the Soviet economy was that it was not real state-capitalism. In his view, actual state-capitalism is well-nigh tantamount to socialism.

Shakhin holds that the system was state-capitalism under both Stalin and his successors who denounced him, such as Khrushchov. He  points out problems with Gubanov’s reasoning, and stresses the need to make a class evaluation of the Soviet economy.

And this issue of CV also contains our letter to Shakhin commenting on the Ukrainian discussion, and pointing out the need to look explicitly at the question of what the transitional economy between capitalism and socialism would look like.

We at Communist Voice are anti-revisionist communists. We are dedicated to helping the working class organize a new and stronger class struggle than in the past, and we hold that communism will once again become the banner of the working class, when it rises in revolutionary struggle. But we hold that communism can only play this role when activists repudiate the distorted form of Marxism that is used to justify despotic regimes abroad and subservience to the liberal bourgeoisie here in the US.  We are opposed to the parody of Marxism and socialism by the new bourgeoisie that came to power in the Stalinist Soviet Union and in the various state-capitalist countries. Revolutionary Marxism-Leninism, which stands for the mobilization of the working class and its genuine role in transforming the economy and society, was replaced with the teaching that the state sector is socialist in itself, and that a country can be a “workers state” if the state sector dominates the economy and the old bourgeoisie has been replaced by a new privileged ruling strata of technocrats and exploiters. A supposedly “benevolent” despotism is not socialism, but another form of capitalism. This distortion of Marxism is advocated by both Stalinists and Trotskyists, and both these revisionist political trends will have to be thrown aside if revolutionary Marxism is to be reborn today. <>

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Last changed on November 27, 2011.